Losing Lexie


Sweet Lexie exploring at the base of a waterfall in North Carolina. What really made the camping trip memorable were the ticks.

After a long, tear-filled week, this afternoon I said a final goodbye to my almost-15-year-old dog Lexie.

Writing this elegy is easy and heartbreaking. Lexie lifted me on days I could not move; she loved me fiercely, and taught me how to properly cuddle. Telling our lovestory is like spinning a campfire tale. Her spirit leads me, like fireflies blinking into the night.

If Lex was anything, she was nearly human. As evidenced by her dew claws, the pup practically had two thumbs, and got into all sorts of trouble because of it. Right away, it was clear she was a master at stealing food. It was stealth skill I learned of in her first week with me after she ate an entire container of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I found her afterward, licking the Tupperware lid. Amazingly, she didn’t leave a crumb behind.

Lex could unscrew the lids of jars of candy or peanuts. She made an art of emptying the garbage can. She also knew how to magically remove full loaves of bread from the top of the stove. I often joked that she knew how to operate the step-stool, and honestly believe it’s a serious possibility.

Colorful journey

Lex was so loved that she even was dognapped once. I retrieved her a week later, and rarely let her out of my sight after that.

She loved being at home so much that she ran away just one time. I had woken up early, and somehow the wind had blown open our front door in the middle of the night. Lex simply walked out of the house. It was trash day, and Matt hopped on a bicycle at  6 a.m. to scour the streets. He found her about three blocks to the east casually sniffing a bush.

Lexie, showing her gray.

Lexie, showing her gray.

More than anything, Lex loved negotiating space on the couch with Matt. They always ended up in some contorted pile of pillows and fur, both of them snoring away.

Lex deeply loved her little brother, Charlie. She enthusiastically welcomed him into our family, and showed him the ropes to Big Dog World.

She didn’t like playing dress up, although when she was younger she did allow me to suit up her paws in doggie muttluks for our winter walks. Lex never quite forgave me for that.

Lex took part in a colorful journey, and was quite possibly more traveled than some people I know. Over the years, she accompanied me on numerous camping trips, morel mushroom hunting and a two-month odyssey driving from Detroit to Miami and back again. She demanded the front passenger seat when it was just us girls driving. Her eyes remained alert as we passed farms and skyscrapers. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

Saying goodbye

If anything, Lexie was a fighter. She came close to death last year, and unbelieveably fought her way through kidney failure. But she was no match for dementia and old age. She no longer knew who I was, and frequently got lost in the house. Her hind legs betrayed her, refusing to hold her weight. She frequently fell off her favorite chair, and recently got stuck behind our couch.

More than that, our vet  told us that Lex lived in constant anxiety, and that medication was not an option. We had simply come to the end of the road. It was time to say goodbye.

I learned early in my newspapering career, that not everyone equally values the death of a loved dog.

Once I was written up by an editor after I expressed despair upon learning the death of my dog, Barkley. I didn’t think my tears were out of line, but a coworker was upset and complained because she thought I had lost a child.

In many ways I had.

In many ways I have, in losing Lexie.

As a 43-year-old, never-been-married spinster, I know Lexie was a close proxy. The reality is that I may never have children, and she, indeed, was my baby.

Sleep well, darling. Mama loves you.

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Blood test results


Lexie in her favorite spot, soaking up the late afternoon sun.

Tonight the vet called to deliver Lexie’s blood test results.

Ordinarily this would be no big deal, but when the actual vet makes the call it’s obvious something heavy hangs in the air.

The good news came first: liver, normal; red and white cells in mid-range, normal.

Then she paused.

The results indicated Lexie’s kidney values are elevated, meaning she is in the early stages of kidney failure. I know this is common in elderly dogs like Lexie. But I also know this officially marks the beginning of the end.

The vet told me I would have to stop giving Lex the Meticam pain killer/anti-inflammatory for her arthritis because it will accelerate the kidney disease. She said I can give it to her for two more days, then only when she’s really in need.

There’s a chance this can be slightly managed through diet, but the vet suggested this was just the beginning of a rough road. She told me to watch for weight loss, lack of appetitie and diarrhea. I’m to make a return visit for more blood tests in eight weeks.

In the meantime, lots of biscuits and doggy kisses.

I detailed Lexie’s dementia symptoms, and how they seem to have progressed in the last couple weeks. My brother and his wife, who are visiting from Florida, have mentioned how different she has been. Most times, Lex looks through them, opting to stare off in space than to engage.

The vet said there is a medication that has proven marginal success. But mostly, she said it is a quality of life issue that I will have to evaluate on my own.

My heart is so heavy weighing all of these things.

Charlie has been the best little brother. He senses something is wrong, and has toned town his rough-and-tumble puppy play. By far, Lex is his favorite part of joining our household. He follows her around, and reveres her like a mother.

This afternoon Charlie has kept busy pulling out all his toys and testing the squeakers.

They all work.

NEXT: Touring Camp Bow Wow: Planning for a vacation when we have a puppy and an aging dog.